Tag Archives: Religion

“Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?”

       One of the premier critiques of religion is this oft stated question. This article by a young stroke survivor relates a tale that asks this question. She has a positive outlook on life after her suffering, but she has doubts about one of the key tenants of her religion. The ugly truth, according to the author, is that Karma is not real. I am not one to judge the truth or falsity of her claim, but I can acknowledge the problem she posits is almost universal for other religions. It is interesting that if you read the comments section, several people have given her answers that will accommodate her new found view of Karma, that it doesn’t exist, while keeping her religious identity intact.

While all of these elements point to the Hindu religious tradition, we were not Hindus. There is a qualitative difference between people who have been raised in a tradition in which the rituals, the foods, the prayers, and the ethics are second nature, and people who have incorporated only parts of a tradition into their religious style.  This is why I use the term “Hindu inspired” rather than “Hindu” to describe Transcendental Meditation and similar movements.

I think I will channel my inner Russell T. McCutcheon when I say “show me a category and I will show you someone making the category.”  The block quote above comes from the book Transcendental in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements in America by Lola Williamson.  This book is great for laying out the evolution and belief systems of these things called HIMMs that Lola names–the evolution of differences in groups, ethic systems, focuses on the experiential, focus on the guru figures, etc.  My critique of the book comes from the underlying tone behind her categories.  There seems to be an assumption of an authentic Hindu religion that Americans have access and appropriated to make a less authentic American version and within those American versions there are some that are more authentic than others.

I think we can also learn a lot about Lola Williamson from this book.  For instance from page 11 I learned that Lola believes that Americans are “culturally indoctrinate into the Judeo Christian worldview.”  Without getting into how problematic a term like “Judeo-Christian worldview” is, does this mean that Jews and Christians have been indoctrinating innocent HIMM children in America?

I found it particularly interesting that I learn on page 179 that Lola uses William James as her theoretical framework for experience with experience being a large focus of her data.  That was rather disappointing since it was right after a discussion that experience is shaped by the language that is taught–that is to say belief leads to experience rather than the other way around.

The Hindu Encyclopedia

While I was searching what to write about this week I came across this site. The creators define Hindupedia as “the Hindu Encyclopedia”. This site is meant to educate the public about all aspects of Hinduism. The main page notes that this site is the only online Hindu encyclopedia that provides the public with a traditional perspective on the Hindu way of life. There are 14 categories ranging from General information to Philosophy and art. Personally, I enjoyed reading about the preparation and celebration of Hindu Festivals. There are many different kinds of festivals. During one festival colored water or powder is thrown on people. This is the festival of colors, Holi. This festival reflects the changing color of nature.

A Mosaic of Faith ; A Breakdown of Asian American Religious Beliefs

A few classes ago we looked over the results of a Pew Forum survey that covered a general overview of religion in America. Of course we focused a lot of our attention on various Asian Religions and their comparisons with responses from various protestant communities.  As I was passing my weekend holed up in bed and sick as a dog, I found myself searching around the internet in search of something to keep me at least mildly entertained, stumbling back onto Pew Forum, specifically to this overview that was a rundown of a lot of what we’d discussed in class. So here it is for those who may not have seen it yet, and would like a little sample of the sort of things we discuss off the blog, so to speak ! Its a really interesting overview and analysis, showing overall differences between Asian American responses to questions of religion, and the differences between various subsets of the ambiguous and large ‘Asian American’ heading. I found in particular the comparisons between subsets of Asian American Buddhists interesting-  a majority of 60% stated they never meditate, for example. On top of that,  Buddhists of Vietnamese descent make up a third of all Asian American Buddhists, and are markedly more likely to state that religion is important to them, answering on the whole more positively in regards to the likelihood of having a shrine, praying, and so forth.

Overall it was largely a fascinating read, and I would certainly recommend taking a look- its chock-full of information that helps construct an idea of the “whole picture” so to speak.

Hindu and Jewish Parallels

This article is analogous to what I am currently investigating for my research project. I am attempting to find as much information as I can on why some people who identify as Hindus exclude from their religious group others who also identify themselves as Hindus. In this article, there are a myriad of reasons why a person who considers themselves to be Jewish person considers themselves or others as Jewish, and why they do not. For me, there are some obvious parallels between Hinduism and Judaism. For instance, some individuals consider Jewishness to be an ethnic trait, and the same can be said for Hindus. Also interesting is that there is a significant Hindu population that identify themselves as Hindu, but yet have no religious affiliation other than their ancestral ties. The same is true of Judaism (These are the much discussed Nones, who are of special relevance to this blog site). There is at least one key idea that I hope to take away from this article, though. And that is the distinction between religions and culture is largely from Protestant influence, and neither of the two groups mentioned fall into either category exclusively, which can be problematic if you can’t think of religion other than in the traditional manner.

Is Yoga Religious?

This is a hotly debated topic recently, and Zach Price has already covered it some here, but I stumbled upon an article on the Huffington Post that was just so interesting I felt I had to write about it. This article written by Mark Morford is pro-Yoga and very anti-Christianity. He argues that Yoga is not a violation of church and state while also claiming that it is religious. Now this may seem problematic, but he claims that Yoga practitioners connect with their inner divinity, not an external entity. I believe that he was trying to interpret the idea of separation of church and state as applying it only to organized religion. If you look at it from his perspective, then you realize that if he concedes that Yoga is religious then this is a problem for Yoga practitioners because they will be banned from schools and other government owned places, but if he doesn’t attribute some religiousness to it then Yoga is just another exercise, which is not what he wants either.

Racial or Religious Humor as Means of Negotiation

So if you missed the “joke” that Rick Warren posted on Facebook and the proceeding backlash then you can catch up on all of it here.  Basically Rick Warren, a famous mega-church pastor, posted an image of a Red Guard from the Chinese Cultural Revolution and made a joke about how his coworkers are like that on Mondays.   Other pastors were upset that a religious leader like Warren would use a joke making light of the horrific acts committed during the Cultural Revolution.

Instead of trying to determine the appropriateness or humor of the joke , I would like to understand the kind of work that joke and the actions taken by Warren and others are doing.  In other words: how is this joke functioning among these groups.

I imagine that if this joke were made by a pastor say fifty years ago it probably would not have had the same reaction to it.  White evangelicals were firmly in power in American culture and remember that it would have been shortly after the release of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) containing an infamous scene of the most stereotypical stereotypes of Asian-Americans.

Fast-foward to today.  A number of Asian-Americans were offended and Rick Warren after one attempt of justifying his joke eventually apologized.  So what changed?

I would argue that at least one function of humor might be negotiation between various groups.  Fifty years ago the joke would have served to reinforce white male protestant dominance.  The joke would negotiate the group by showing who is in the group (those that think it was funny) and who is at the top of that particular social structure.  Today, by the reactions and Warren’s apology I would argue that same power structure was renegotiated.  Since the joke is not funny, the white male protestant is no longer the complete dominant within American Christianity or at least who is in and who is out has been expanded.  This seems to be congruent with the growing numbers of Asian (and Hispanic) members within American churches.

So maybe this joke isn’t just saying whether or not the Cultural Revolution is funny. Maybe it is saying  who is or isn’t in the group. lol?